Mick Dittman was one of Australia’s most successful jockeys during his career, but the Queenslander always had a secret urge to be a part of a well-executed plunge. This was easier said than done, as Dittman had hundreds of thousands of followers around Australia and rode for the nation’s leading trainer, Tommy Smith.
One day, standing alongside Smith at the trainer’s Tulloch Lodge at Randwick, they watched a float full of two-year-old fillies being unloaded. One filly took Dittman’s eye to such an extent that he arrived the following morning at 4.30 to ride her in slow work – a rare occurrence for the stable jockey of such a powerful outfit.
‘Every day, I’d get there and ride her,’ Dittman recalled. ‘We never went fast because I knew she had what it took, and I didn’t want all the clockers at Randwick to get any hint of her ability. I’d either work her at 4.30 or 10.00 in the morning, when no one was around. Perhaps on the odd morning I’d let her sprint the odd furlong, but that’d be up the back where no one could see her. I’d learned from a very early age that bookies and their spies miss very little of a morning and, if they do, they pay through the nose that afternoon.’
After the filly had been in work for six weeks, Smith announced that he was going to Europe for a month and his brother Ernie would run the stable.
‘This was a bit of luck,’ said Dittman. ‘Tommy was the best trainer in Australia, but if he’d known how good this filly was he would’ve told all of Sydney and she would’ve started 1–5 wherever we took her. So I said to Ernie: “There’s a quid to be made here. Only you and I know how good she’s going, no one else has been on her back and I galloped her the other morning at about 10.30 when no one could see her, and her work was sensational.” ’
Both Dittman and Ernie agreed that a two-year-old race at Warwick Farm the following week was ideal for a plunge. ‘Just a couple of hours before acceptances, I rang Ernie and said: “Look, put Mark De Montfort on her and I’ll ride the stablemate.” He said: “But Mick, you’ve done months of work on her and you’re giving up the ride.” And I replied: “Let’s hope the bookies are just as confused as you are! Ring De Montfort and tell him he’s got the ride. Tell him that the filly is fairly backward and will need more time before she shows her best and give me the same instructions for the one I’m riding. And when we get into the mounting yard, repeat these instructions and I’ll handle the rest.”
‘When we got behind the gates, I trotted up to De Montfort and said: “I’ve got a message from Ernie for you. Forget those instructions, kick up on her early – don’t worry if you’re caught six wide as she’s capable of breaking the track record.” He said to me: “Are you for real, Mick?” I said, “I’ve never been more serious in my life – just do as you’re told.” ’
The filly strolled away to win easily and was backed from 3–1 into 4–7. Tommy Smith arrived back two days later and declared the filly the best two year old in Australia – a statement that Dittman was glad the trainer released post-race.
Her name was Speedcheck and she finished second behind Rory’s Jester in the 1985 Golden Slipper. Of course, Dittman, who was known as ‘The Enforcer’, had the last word on her success: ‘You do understand that it’s against the rules of racing for jockeys to bet.’